Armed intruder drills look and sound like the real thing at Missouri schools

06/10/2014 3:20 PM

06/10/2014 3:35 PM

After detailing mass murders committed by gun-toting madmen at schools in recent years — including Columbine, Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech — Grandview Police Capt. Matt McCall posed a question to the hundreds of Grandview School District employees gathered in the high school auditorium.

Do they do fire drills annually?

The answer, of course, was yes.

“No kids have been killed in a fire at a U.S. school in the last 50 years,” McCall said. “Two hundred-ninety seven have been killed by armed intruders since 1980.”

That grim statistic made clear the need for the role-playing exercise the teachers, administrators, bus drivers and other workers were about to begin.

They fanned out around the building to practice the hierarchy of actions McCall and fellow police Capt. Richard Rodgers had urged them to remember if confronted by a so-called “active shooter.”

Run, hide, fight.

Grandview schools were doing the training not only as a matter of prudence, but in response to a mandate from the Missouri Legislature. In their 2013 session, lawmakers passed a bill requiring schools to hold such training annually.

A summary of the bill states “All school personnel must annually participate in a simulated active shooter and intruder response drill conducted by law enforcement professionals.”

Josh Colvin, director of student services for the Park Hill School District, said Northland law-enforcement agencies reached out to offer their help in training Park Hill workers even before the bill became law last year.

Members of the community expressed their concerns to him immediately after the Sandy Hook massacre in December 2012, Colvin said.

“They want to know what you’re doing,” he said.

Jon Brady, director of safety and security at the North Kansas City School District, said Northtown schools typically hold two lockdown drills each year, “including the active-shooter piece.”

The Raytown district has conducted training school by school, starting in April 2013 before the state mandate took effect.

Last week’s program at Grandview High School practiced three scenarios, each with increasing gravity: a “traditional” lockdown drill, a lockdown with options or an explanation and a “hard lockdown.”

The first scenario might be triggered by criminal activity outside the school, in which case the school’s perimeter doors would be locked and teachers instructed to gather students into classrooms, but to proceed pretty much as normal.

The lockdown with explanation could be an incident short of a shooting inside the school, in which case students should be secured in a locked room and told to remain quiet.

The final scenario — an active shooter inside the school — was where the run, hide, fight mandate came into play.

“If you can get out of this building, do it,” Rodgers said. “If you hear shooting at the other end of the building, get out.”

Hiding, he said, “is your next best option.” Blocking the door with bulky furniture might provide the extra seconds needed to save lives.

But if an intruder manages to overcome the barriers, “prepare to fight,” Rodgers said.

“This person is trying to kill you and your students. You need to be prepared to do whatever you can to survive.”

Rodgers reminded the workers to silence their cellphones while hiding, and he talked about how to break out windows and what to use to put up a fight.

Police and administrators wearing yellow-and-orange safety vests observed the exercise, serving as monitors.

In the first scenario, an announcement came over the intercom, saying that administrators had “been informed by police of an incident near the school.”

The adults playing school children inside the cafeteria were fairly calm until a man appeared outside a door and began to rattle it. With that, most of them moved away, except for a couple who checked the locks. One used his radio to call the office and tell them what he was seeing.

After a brief review, the second scenario unfolded. A voice on the intercom told the adults to “go to lockdown; an unauthorized person has made entry to the school building.”

The 40 or so people in the cafeteria made their way to locked rooms, turned off the lights and tried to remain quiet. Again, participants were relatively calm until someone began pounding on a door, yelling “I want to speak to my kid! Where’s Bobby at?”

That drew some gasps.

The final scenario was the scariest, participants said. It began with a voice coming over the intercom, speaking normally at first and then screaming as the sound of gunshots rang out.

The adults in the cafeteria fled through a door and headed for the athletic field as Police Officer Mark Hermelink, in plain clothes, wandered the hallways for several minutes, firing blanks from an AK-47 rifle.

Madeline Post, a paraprofessional at the high school, said her group inside a classroom was divided on what to do during the final drill.

“Part of us ran, and part of us hid,” she said. “I hid.”

She said the drill put some “scary thoughts” into her mind, “but this will help us preplan and know what to do in a situation like this.”

Grandview Superintendent Ralph Teran said the monitors’ observations and the responses of the participants would be reviewed and used to guide future actions and training.

“It’s good to get a feel for the real terror,” Teran said. “We wanted to make it realistic as possible without pushing people over the edge.”

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